Subaru Outback Leaking Hatch Repair/Upper Brake Light Replacement




After a recent hard rain, I noticed that the floor in the cargo area of our 2014 Outback was wet. Inspection of the hatch seal did not show any damage so I decided the most likely location for the leak was from around the 3rd brake light. The procedure below describes what I did to fix the leak but the same steps would be used to replace the brake light assembly.

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Step 1: Removing Upper Trim

To access the brake light, you need to remove the upper trim piece around the rear window. The trim is held in place with 5 or 6 clips. To remove the trim, gently pry the trim up around the perimeter to release the clips. I used some plastic interior trim removal tools. They are fairly cheap to buy at your local auto parts store and won't scratch the other trim and glass. You could use a screwdriver or scraper but use caution to avoid damage.

Once you release one clip, work your way around the trim until all the clips are loose. The trim can then be removed. You can see in the last picture that the inside of the trim had quite a bit of water in it.

Step 2: Removing the Brake Light and Repairing the Leak

To remove the brake light, you need to take the (2) 8mm retaining nuts off. There are 2 circular holes in the hatch at either end of the light that allow access to the nuts. Once the nuts have been removed, the light pulls out from the outside of the hatch. To remove the light completely, push the locking clip in on the light connector and remove the plug.

I found that one of the nuts on the light was very loose and most likely the reason it was leaking. I decided to pull the light out and applied a very small bead of clear silicone around the openings for the light and mounting studs to ensure a good seal.

One thing I noticed is that there is no way to replace the bulbs in the upper brake light and you have to replace the entire light assembly if the lights are inoperative. Being they are LED's, hopefully that doesn't happen often.

Step 3: Reinstallation

The wiring harness for the brake light was reconnected and the light assembly was reinstalled. Make sure it is centered in the opening. Reinstall the retaining nuts being careful to not over tighten them.

To reinstall the trim, align the trim in place and push the clips into the receptacles. It should click into place without much effort. Test the brake light and that's it.

Now I just need to wait for the next rain storm!

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    2 Discussions


    6 weeks ago

    My wife has a 2013 Outback (identical to your 2014) that would leak from the upper lift gate every time that I brought it to the car wash. Using your instructions for 3rd brake light leaks, I also noticed that one of the two bolts holding the light in place was loose on her vehicle. Although I haven't yet brought the vehicle back to the car wash after I repaired it, I'm suspecting that this solved the problem. Thank you so much for the detailed instructions.

    I had heard elsewhere that the 3rd brake light was hot glued in place. This made me more hesitant to repair it. Obviously, it wasn't hot glued. I also didn't want to bring it into the Subaru dealership. I had heard that they would replace the light housing with a new one (reportedly at about $500 with labor). A body shop refused to repair it because they were concerned about the liability of it continuing to leak and leading to mold growth. They said that I needed to go the dealership.

    I used a small plastic bike tire changing tool to pry up the trim... it worked great. I also already had the silicone, so this repair cost me $0. I would add to your instructions for people not to pry with even a plastic tool above the window defrost wires. The defrost wires are extremely fragile. Again, thank you so much for your helpful repair instructions.


    1 year ago

    I'm glad you could fix it :)